University of Miami Establishes Chair for Study of Atheism

May 20, 2016

By Laurie Goodstein

With an increasing number of Americans leaving religion behind, the University of Miami has received a donation in late April from a wealthy atheist to endow what it says is the nation’s first academic chair “for the study of atheism, humanism and secular ethics.”

The chair has been established after years of discussion with a $2.2 million donation from Louis J. Appignani, a retired businessman and former president and chairman of the modeling school Barbizon International, who has given grants to many humanist and secular causes — though this is his largest so far. The university, which has not yet publicly announced the new chair, will appoint a committee of faculty members to conduct a search for a scholar to fill the position.

“I’m trying to eliminate discrimination against atheists,” said Mr. Appignani, who is 83 and lives in Florida. “So this is a step in that direction, to make atheism legitimate.”

Religion departments and professors of religious studies are a standard feature at most colleges and universities, many originally founded by ministers and churches. The study of atheism and secularism is only now starting to emerge as an accepted academic field, scholars say, with its own journal, conferences, course offerings and, now, an endowed chair.

“I think it’s a very bold step of the University of Miami, and I hope there will be others,” said Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and atheist luminary who is the author of “The God Delusion.”

“It’s enormously important to shake off the shackles of religion from the study of morality,” Mr. Dawkins said in a telephone interview from his home in Britain.

The percentage of Americans who claim no religious affiliation has risen rapidly in a short time, to 23 percent of the population in 2014, up from 16 percent in 2007, according to a report by the Pew Research Center. Younger people are even less religious, with 35 percent of millennials saying they identify as atheist, agnostic or with no religion in particular.

Secular Americans are beginning to organize themselves politically. Next month, nonbelievers are headed to Washington to lobby Congress and hold a “Reason Rally” at the Lincoln Memorial to showcase their numbers and promote the separation of church and state.


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13 comments on “University of Miami Establishes Chair for Study of Atheism

  • @OP – University of Miami Establishes Chair for Study of Atheism

    At first i thought, “How do you study non-stamp-collecting?”

    @OP – the University of Miami has received a donation in late April from a wealthy atheist to endow what it says is the nation’s first academic chair “for the study of atheism, humanism and secular ethics.”

    But then it looks clearer, that this is the study of humanist values, secular ethics, and evidence-based reasoning, free of contamination by religious dogmas or fallacious circularity from religious pre-conceptions.

    The aspects of memes of cultural inertia, should also be interesting.



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  • OP

    “It’s enormously important to shake off the shackles of religion from the study of morality,”

    In shaking them off folk will then need to do the job of moral due diligence themselves. I trust people soooooo much more than their scamming shaman shepherds. People are decent when they haven’t been tampered with.

    Free will?

    The religious were given it to be blamed and chained by the mind parasites who could then take it away again.



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  • Fortunately, we in the UK have no need for any such chair; at present!

    But we’d better watch our step, because the Dreaded Lurgi lurks eternally.

    I say, you there at comment 2; yes, you!

    “Free will?” Maybe you have a point; it sounds too simple to be profound, but when was writing a simple tune ever easy?

    Sorry, it’s been a long day.



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  • I suspect there are others who had the same experience as I did…I stopped – rather I never started – believing around the age of 11, when (I tell anyone who asks) I was old enough to think. After Sunday School, I had sometimes been taken to church proper, but my mind was occupied by imagining miniature WW1 biplanes, flying around the chandeliers in the high church ceiling. Just like all those characters I had been told about from a young age – Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman – gods & saints all vanished like smoke. Religion just never “took” with me. It was like trying to paint a greased surface, nothing sticks no matter how hard or carefully you try. It did not help when upon hearing that I (at 14-15 years) did not believe in god, my step mother said “People who don’t believe in god are crazy”. The door closed rather firmly after that, and never re-opened. I find it a bit creepy to attend a church ceremony now. For funerals & weddings, I have to grit my teeth.



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  • rod-the-farmer #4
    May 20, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    I find it a bit creepy to attend a church ceremony now. For funerals & weddings, I have to grit my teeth.

    Yes! Humanist funerals are a tribute celebrating the life of the deceased.
    Christian funerals are usually infested with glorifying their god over everybody and everything while patronising the deceased.



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  • “It’s enormously important to shake off the shackles of religion from the study of morality,”

    Richard Dawkins should visit a philosophy department. Philosophy departments have been offering courses in secular ethics since… well, since philosophy was invented. Plato famously removed God from ethics 2500 years ago. Pretty much all undergrad philosophy courses in ethics dispense with religious connections from about day one, and then focus on secular theories. This is nothing new. I think the only place you find ethics connected with religion is in church or theology.



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  • Brent Silby #7
    May 21, 2016 at 1:41 am

    Richard Dawkins should visit a philosophy department. Philosophy departments have been offering courses in secular ethics since… well, since philosophy was invented.

    Since science took over most of the useful aspects of philosophy, when Natural Philosophy became science, over a century ago, ethics has been a key element of courses.
    The honesty and integrity of the scientific methodology is fundamental to its function, with scientific journals and scientific bodies rejecting substandard studies, and exposing erroneous or dishonest work.

    Specialist areas such as medicine, have codes of ethical conduct with disciplinary procedures for dealing with those who ignore them.

    This is nothing new. I think the only place you find ethics connected with religion is in church or theology.

    Unfortunately in legislation in some countries, primitive religious thinking, is allowed to intrude into what would otherwise be rational professional consideration of ethical issues.

    There are also denominational theological colleges, purporting to offer courses in what they call “philosophy”!



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  • Alan 4 @ # 5.

    “Yes! Humanist funerals are a tribute celebrating the life of the deceased.”

    Of course, but my very sweet neighbour went to one, and told me that she left it feeling bereft; there had been no woo.

    I value my relationship with my neighbours too highly to take issue with them; la vie et trop court.



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  • Stafford Gordon #10
    May 21, 2016 at 5:48 am

    Alan 4 @ # 5. –“Yes! Humanist funerals are a tribute celebrating the life of the deceased.”

    Of course, but my very sweet neighbour went to one, and told me that she left it feeling bereft; there had been no woo.

    Funerals are about respect for the deceased and mourners, – not pandering to an individual’s specific god-delusions.

    My brother’s Muslim friends and our family’s Christian friends, did not seem to have a problem with this at my mother’s humanist funeral.



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  • 12
    bonnie2 says:

    misunderstand […] advocacy position

    Ah, “guilt by association” (for lack of a better term at the moment) plague. Kudos to Mr. Appignani et.al. – the academic door is now ajar, first steps into enlightenment.

    *Jeopardy! (their answer for ‘what is atheism’) caters to 65+ demographic, probably explains regular doses of ‘The Bible’ category. We need a Lisa Simpson type game show.



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